The coronavirus challenged compassion-providing ministries in new ways
Kitchen Covers: The Collection by Drew Holcomb featuring Ellie Holcomb: The cover art and title say it all: The Holcombs in their kitchen with little more than an acoustic guitar, their voices, and 16 of their favorite songs. The Avett Brothers, Kacey Musgraves, Tom Petty, John Prine, and NEEDTOBREATHE covers aren’t exactly surprising. Neither is the triptych of ’60s chart toppers (Louis Armstrong, Otis Redding, Joni Mitchell). But making them sound as if they belong together along with tributes to Johnny and June Carter Cash, Kenny Rogers and Dolly Parton, and Beyoncé and Jay-Z takes some doing. Only Edward Sharpe & the Magnetic Zeros’ “Home” feels unconvincing.
Out of Body by NEEDTOBREATHE: Be not dismayed by news of Bo Rinehart’s departure. The electronica that distinguished 2016’s Hard Love from everything that had come before has been fully subsumed, making this album feel like a return to form. One listen to “Riding High,” which begins pure country then revs into high gear with guitars bottleneck-sliding every which way, reestablishes their Southern-rock cred with a vengeance. Close listening, however, reveals incremental progress. The hooks are bigger than ever, justifying not only Bear Rinehart’s renewed commitment to emoting like a country singer who thinks he’s Bono (which sure beats the other way around) but also lyrics that reflect the high stakes attending every moment of those for whom Christ is all.
Saint Etienne Presents Songs for the Fountain Coffee Room by various artists: At first glance, this selection of recordings chosen “to fit a bar in mid-’70s Los Angeles” seems top-heavy with obscurities. Tamiko Jones? Jeff Perry? Batteaux? Then one remembers how hip ’70s LA was, and that in such a setting Billboard blips by the Fifth Avenue Band, Delegation, Millie Jackson, the pre-breakthrough Daryl Hall & John Oates, and the post-breakthrough Bobbie Gentry would’ve functioned as entirely acceptable segues between better-known singles by Seals & Crofts, Stephen Bishop, Todd Rundgren, and Boz Scaggs. Mainly, though, the program traces pop-R&B’s gradual transformation into night music for disco dwellers, stopping just short of the moment it crossed the line.
Blonde on the Tracks by Emma Swift: If this beautifully sung, sonically luscious, and creatively reimagined collection of Bob Dylan covers did not include “Sad Eyed Lady of the Lowlands” or “The Man in Me,” it would deserve every syllable of its many rave reviews. But it does contain those songs, the former of which drags on for 12 minutes, effectively grinding the album to a halt, and the latter of which turns a simple love song into a nonbinary, gender-schmender manifesto. “I wanted to sing songs from a female perspective,” Swift has said, “but I didn’t want to change any of the pronouns. I didn’t want to make any attempt to fit these things within a heteronormative context. That’s not what I’m about.” Caveat emptor.
Emma Swift isn’t the only artist turning the lemons of lockdown into Bob Dylan–flavored lemonade. There are also the four members (plus two sidemen) of the band Famous Horses. Using iPhones, GarageBand, and other technological wonders, they’ve responded to the challenge of sheltering in three different states by recording You Ain’t Goin’ Nowhere: The Basement Tapes Recorded in Quarantine (Misra), a re-creation of the Dylan and the Band classic The Basement Tapes.
Vocally and instrumentally, the Horses stick close to the originals—strap themselves to a tree with roots, you might say. Only the Rob Collier–sung transformation of Robbie Robertson’s “Yazoo Street Scandal” into what sounds like a high-quality Tom Petty outtake goes out on a limb. But it’s Chet Vincent who sings most of the leads, and, if nothing else, his high-pitched, plaintive voice makes imagining Neil Young as an honorary Band member both tempting and easy.